Monday, October 1, 2012

New to the Endangered Catholic Species List: "The Mass of Convenience"

Several years ago, the deanery that I currently serve as priest in conducted a study to look at weekend Masses and attendance.  The study found that there were 44 weekend Masses in the deanery, and, more surprisingly, that the average Mass attendance was LESS THAN HALF of the Church's capacity. 

The Church where I currently serve as pastor has been conducting Mass counts the last month and a half (as part of a deanery-wide effort) just to see if the numbers have changed at all.  At my parish, the largest TOTAL weekend attendance (the sum of the attendance at our two Masses) has been 190, while the Church's capacity is 260.  So, as it stands, if we had only one Mass, then everyone would still fit.  (please note: if you are from the area, we are NOT going to one Mass, I'm simply raising this as a discussion piece). 

Some would argue, again using my parish as an example, "Well, Father, if you took away one of the Masses, some people would just go elsewhere" and that is precisely what I'm writing about. 

In the next 10 years, half of our current priests will be retiring. 

I don't think this will lead to lots of Churches being closed, but it will definitely lead to an Archbishop saying to parishes - "We will have as many Masses at your parish as is warranted by the numbers...but we won't have any more than that either." 

What's the point of raising this topic???  I believe that whereas twenty and thirty years ago (and beyond) the model was basically this - Father comes to your parish for his entire life, and it is Father's job to attract new people to this parish, and I, as a lay person at my Church, don't have to worry too much about going out and evangelizing and trying to draw people in...I don't have to take my Faith to the public square, I don't have to go "door to door" so to speak - it's up to Father.  And if Father's reputation in the community was solid, if his preaching was tolerable, if the music was tolerable, then people came.

The point of my post is that right before our very eyes this model is being replaced with a model that is in many ways the opposite of the old model.  Now, it is the priest who will be going from one parish to another administering the sacraments, while the responsibility for going out and taking the faith to the people will fall largely on the people in the parish. 

I will have 4 or 5 Masses a weekend for the rest of my life.  If I'm at a parish that warrants 5 Masses because each one is full, then I'll be at that parish by itself.  If there a bunch of parishes in an area that only warrant one Mass, then I will have 5 Masses at 5 different Churches every weekend. an interesting way there is a temporal benefit for the parish that goes out and evangelizes and draws people to the Church - they will have more Masses, and those that do not will move to one Mass a weekend, and they will close if that one Mass isn't even feasible. 

The days of saying "Well, I'm going to the 5:30 Mass so I can sleep in tomorrow, and then, when 5:00 rolls around and the Notre Dame game is close, deciding to go to the 9 am Mass, and then, when my mom makes sausage at 8:30, I decide to go to the noon Mass, but then, when it gets close to noon, realizing I want to watch the Colts game, and so I decide I can go to the 5:30 Mass at the neighboring parish"...those days are going to quickly be behind us.

And I would end with noting that this isn't a bad thing.  First of all, again, it forces people to go and win converts themselves and to learn more about their faith than if they just went to Church one hour a week.  The other advantage, however, is that people would rather go to Masses in Churches that are full!  My current parish, before I arrived, had three Masses with about 40 people attending each Mass.  I would find that terribly depressing as a parishioner.  Even if it is less convenient, I'd rather go to Mass with the whole community than have 5 pews to myself on a Sunday.


  1. That is truly outstanding! Good post Fr. John. I despise the mass of convenience because it is truly a spiritual laziness or abuse, or maybe presumption, but it is not the apex of love for God.
    We ought not settle for left overs when we can strive for excellence... even in the spiritual life.

  2. Wow, the laity taking ownership for their faith and participating in evangelization. It's not a novel idea by any stretch. Look to the early Church. Look to Vatican II's Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, and Notrae Aetate for examples of evangelization. The days when Father did everything hopefully are over. Now if we could just convince the younger clergy to learn how to empower the laity.

    1.'re going to blame the younger clergy??? If you need the priest to "empower" you then you're in deep trouble.

      St. Peter: "So, let's look at how you lived the Gospel..."

      Unempowered Catholic: "Excuse me, St. Peter...I would like to say that my priest never empowered me..."

      St. Peter: "In that case, come on in"

      The role a priest has to play in empowering the laity is minimal. A priest can preach on the idea that people should get out there and live the Gospel...what else do you want a clergyman to do? Create more committees?

      Don't blame your priest...Catholics need to take responsibility for whether or not they are living the Gospel in the world.

  3. Demographics of a few counties in our diocese prove its not a shortage of people causing the shortage of priests.
    clay county vigo county marion county
    33860 62000 197000 1900
    29000 100000 348000 1920
    25000 99000 460000 1940
    24000 108000 697000 1960
    25000 114000 765000 1980
    26556 106000 860000 2000
    26868 107000 903000 2010
    The above stats show even vigo and clay should be able to hold their own in vocations and marion should be booming. so what is the problem in vocations and the church?- the answer is the same to both.
    I'm not sure that over the past century in this diocese its been either the good evangelization of priests or laity, that first caused growth and then decline in the priesthood and in the church attendence. I would guess its been more of a decline in the strength of our catholic marriages and families, that have led to decline in both priests and full churches.
    One step already underway is improving our worship within the liturgy with the more accurate translation, along with chant and increased reverence. Popes JP2 and Benedict both felt the need to restore the liturgy and felt that some of the sloppiness in the liturgy caused unseen mystical problems or rifts between the heavenly and earthly liturgy.
    Also Challenging all caholics and specifically young people to be more Holy will eventually strengthen our families which will solve the priest shortage, because strong families produce priests. families are in themselves evangelistic. as young couples outside the church begin to realize, hey these catholics stay married and have strong families, its very appealing to a young couple who become eager to create love in the form of children.